Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Please Watch We Feed People


Do you remember Opie? He was the red-headed kid on the Andy Griffith Show, a TV sitcom of the 1960's set in a small town in the American South. If you do recall the show and can still whistle the theme song then, yes, you are old, as we are. Unlike other child stars Ron Howard, aka Opie, stayed in the business with a star turn in another popular sitcom, Happy Days, before becoming an accomplished movie director with a bunch of critical and box office hits -- think of Cocoon. 

I've been looking forward to Howard's latest documentary which is called We Feed People, released on Disney/National Geographic this past weekend. It is about the work of World Central Kitchen, with the founder, Chef Jose Andres , front and centre. Andres prefers to be called a cook, but he had a meteoric rise as a celebrity chef in the United States, even though he is originally from Spain. Along with starting a bunch of high-end restaurants Andres became a media star and published books and that could have been the story of his accomplished life.

In 2010 he decided to respond to the devastation in Haiti brought about by the earthquake. He wanted to feed people so went to Haiti even though he had no experience in disaster relief. His restaurants specialize in presenting exquisitely arrayed, tiny portions of food for well-heeled patrons to savour.  In Haiti he quickly learned how to feed large numbers of people, stumbling his way into the best ways to respond. 

                                                World Central Kitchen has provided 31 million meals 

Andres is a brilliant, driven, larger-than-life man who has now dedicated more than a decade to feeding people affected by what we call natural disasters, although they are often accelerated by human-made climate change. In the early days he was spending his own money and using his fame to run up huge bills for the food he brought in. Over time he's built response teams with a powerful ethos of taking food to the people, where they live. 

Instead of importing meagre "meals ready to eat" (MRE) these teams establish kitchens to create thousands of hot, delicious meals. Andres and his cohorts draw on locals to help with the preparation of the food and consult with them on what is appropriate for the culture. Beans mashed in one dish, cabbage chopped rather than shredded in another. We see the contrast between his restaurant micro-portions and the vats of steaming food which looks delicious just the same. 

There are scenes of team members moving through neighbourhoods feeding elders who are stuck in their homes, dodging debris and chaos as they go. A child on a bicycle directs them to the houses of people who are most in need which is very biblical, it seems to me. 

A lot of things have been percolating through my brain since we watched We Feed People on Sunday evening. There are a lot of stories in the gospels of Jesus eating, consorting with the supposed riff-raff. And ya, he feeds people when there isn't enough -- the Loaves and Fishes story is in all four gospels, with that kid and his basket. Then, just before Jesus is arrested and executed there is a final meal, the Last Supper. 

I was also aware that people of faith feed people. Our home congregation, Trenton UC, has a meal ministry with dedicated volunteers, as does Bridge St. UC in Belleville. On Monday morning Ruth headed to Bridge St. for her regular stint distributing meals, something which has happened out of their kitchen every single day since the pandemic began. Ruth often shares vignettes of the exchanges with guests, nearly all of whom are grateful. Some of the people are funny, some are a bit crazy (aren't we all?), but they are all fed. 

We know that it is imperative to provide the basics of life for every member of society, and that the "soup kitchen" is not the ultimate answer. Yet there is something powerful in the directness of feeding others and of demonstrating compassion and dignity in the process. "We feed people, in body, mind, and spirit" could be the motto of every Christian congregation, regardless of background. 

If you can, watch We Feed People. It is inspiring and it may provoke worthwhile conversations as a result. 

                                                                    Jesus and the Loaves & Fishes

Monday, May 30, 2022

Called by Earth & Sky on a Perfect Sunday Morning

Yesterday we had arranged to meet family members in Napanee for lunch, half an hour away, so we had a choice on our hands. Take advantage of a stellar, calm morning to get out in our kayaks on the Bay of Quinte or drive half an hour in the opposite direction to participate in worship? 

In the end we squeezed in all three, beginning with a paddle at 7:30. We chose a stretch of the shore where we are usually alone and there is plenty of wildlife. We weren't disappointed,  with sightings of ospreys and blue herons, swallows and jumping fish. A beaver swam by, a raccoon patrolled the shore, and we saw our first yellow water lily blooms of the year. It was all we could hope for -- including the water snakes. 

Home for a quick shower, then on to church where the grandkids had decided on the balcony, so up we went. We realized that because no one else was up there we didn't need masks, the first time in more than two years of intermittent worship attendance due to the pandemic. By a happy coincidence -- providence? -- one of the hymns was Pat Mayberry's wonderful Called By Earth and Sky. We belted it out, unfettered. 

On to Napanee where the restaurant we chose has opened an outdoor patio under large trees and by a stream. A perfect day served up by the Creator. 

Here are the lyrics for the hymn, which is #135 in the United Church music resource, More Voices:

Chorus:  Called by earth and sky, promise of hope held high

This is our sacred living trust

treasure of life sanctified, called by earth and sky.

1. Precious these waters endless seas, deep ocean’s dream 

Waters of healing, rivers of rain The wash of love again.

2. Precious this gift, the air we breathe; wind born and free.

 Breath of the Spirit, blow through this place, our gathering and our grace. 

3. Precious these mountains, ancient sands; vast fragile land. 

Seeds of our wakening, rooted and strong, Creation's faithful song. 

4. Precious the fire that lights the way, bright dawning day. 

Fire of passion, sorrows undone, our faith and justice one.

Called by Earth and Sky Words and Music Pat Mayberry 

Copyright 2005, Pat Mayberry. All Right Reserved.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

God, Our Nation Feels the Loss

                                                             Prayer Vigil, Uvalde, Texas

 Many have decried the sanctimonious and hypocritical "thoughts and prayers" of those who shed their crocodile tears for the victims of a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, while doing nothing to end the gun carnage.

 At the same time, communities of faith have responded with heartfelt sorrow and, yes, prayers. Today Christians congregations everywhere will pray for those who have suffered such terrible loss and for change in a country which seems to have become inured to violence by a false notion of personal freedom.

Here is a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette which is really a prayer set to an older tune: 

God, Our Nation Feels the Loss PILOT (“Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me”)

God, our nation feels the loss
as our children pay the cost
for the violence we accept,
for the silence we have kept.
Rachel weeps for children gone;
God of love, this can’t go on!

Jesus, Lord, we hear you say,
“Don’t turn little ones away!”
May we build a kinder land
where our children understand:
Every child here matters more
than the guns we clamor for.

Holy Spirit, wind and flame,
send us out in Jesus’ name.
May we shout and say, “Enough!”
May we build a world of love —
till the sounds of weapons cease,

till our young can grow in peace.

Tune: John Edgar Gould, 1871. Text: Copyright © 2022 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved. Permission is given for free use of this hymn for churches and ecumenical services.

Author’s Note: See the reference to the Slaughter of the Innocents: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18). This hymn was written in remembrance of the beloved children of God who died in the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Many of us, as individuals, do not accept violence, keep silence, or clamor for guns. Yet, as a nation, we do these things, and as a nation, we need to repent; we need to turn around and live a different way. All of us are called to do more than sing and pray; please work for gun safety laws in your community and state.

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is the author of over 400 hymns that have been sung by thousands of congregations around the world, and are found in 20 books and thousands of websites, including www.carolynshymns.com

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Supreme Court & Our Expectations for Justice

                                                            Quebec City Mosque Shooting Victims

I will begin today's blog with the opening words of an article in yesterday's Globe and Mail newpaper: 

 The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously struck down the punishment of life without parole for mass murderers, retroactive to the time it was enacted in 2011 – giving a large number of sentenced killers hope of release some day. 

The ruling, written by Chief Justice Richard Wagner, determined the punishment is cruel and unusual and therefore illegal under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it is “intrinsically incompatible with human dignity.”...

The decision came in the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six Muslims at a Quebec City mosque in 2017. He now becomes eligible for full parole in 25 years. 

But the ruling also effects at least 18 others who have been sentenced since 2011 to periods of parole ineligibility exceeding 25 years. Those who received 50 years or more, even if they have exhausted their appeals, have a clear right to ask a court to reduce their ineligibility period to 25 years. The top sentences thus far have had a 75-year waiting period for a parole hearing.

When I first heard that a decision by the nine justices of the Supreme Court was pending I tried to sort out my own feelings on the subject. At an emotional, gut level my outrage at the cowardly nature of these terrible crimes is such that I would claim that "the time should fit the crime" and that mass murderers deserve to put away for the rest of their lives. Then I considered that a first degree sentence is in fact a life sentence, but with the benefit of a hearing after the specific time frame of 25 years. To deny this is the “intrinsically incompatible with human dignity.” part of the ruling. The lengthier sentences,only meted out in recent years  are essentially the death penalty, day by day by day. 

Some of you know that during seminary I spent four months working as a chaplaincy intern in Kingston Penitentiary, a federal institution. I interacted with a fair number of inmates who had committed horrendous crimes, including multiple murders. Some of them were in denial about the gravity of their acts, while others were doing the soul-searching which led them to be "penitent", to acknowledge their wrong-doing. 

While they talked with us as chaplains there was nothing they could say or do which would reduce their sentences. All they could hope for was the opportunity to at some point demonstrate that they were capable of change and re-entering society. Some of the most profound theological conversation I had through the years were with inmates who know they were miserable sinners in need of redemption.Those few months were life-changing for me.  

I think of Sister Helen Prejean who has advocated for an end to the death penalty in the United States for decades. Her book Dead Man Walking was made into an excellent movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Prejean has often said that as humans created and loved by God  “we are worth more than the worst act we commit.This is not an easy outlook to accept and if I'm honest I doubt that I would feel this way if a loved one was snatched away by a senseless crime. It does seems consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, whose self-giving love redeems us.

Yesterday's decision by the justices would have been made with painstaking deliberation, yet it was unanimous. I'll be paying attention to the commentary in the days ahead. 

God be with those who lost loved ones to these crimes and must come to grips with this outcome. 

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Poison of Patriarchy in the SBC


As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

There is no longer Jew or Greek; 

there is no longer slave or free; 

there is no longer male and female, 

for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3: 27-28

I had worthwhile conversations last evening and this morning with a brother-in-law who was passing through and stayed the night. He is quite involved in his congregation where he lives as well as an outreach organization in the city he left when he married my sister-in-law. 

He is a thoughtful guy who is a committed Christian as a personal level and in living out the gospel with others. His congregation might be regarded as evangelical except that they no longer use that term. In fact, they describe themselves as "Jesus followers" because even the term Christian has taken on such negative connotations for lots of the people. This has actually been a successful strategy in that a significant portion of their congregation is younger and many are either ex-vangelicals or those who had given up on conventional expressions of Christianity.

We chatted about the release of a damning independent report by the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States which reveals decades of cover-up of sexual abuse in one of the largest denominations in the country. This process began with the investigative work by two newspapers in Texas in 2019. When they went public with their findings there was denial in the SBC hierarchy at first, then cautious admission which was really damage control.

The report has shaken many in the evangelical world to the core because it reveals an awareness of the extent of the abuse and the secret list of pastors who have been abusers and yet often allowed to continue in congregational ministry or positions of denominational leadership. One former SBC leader who was turfed because he challenged assumptions and practice likens it to the mafia in terms of secrecy and control. 

In the conversations with my brother-in-law we talked about the toxic outcome of patriarchal Christian organizations which silence victims and protect the perpetrators in a system which claims the authority of men within that chilling hierarchical tyranny. We agreed that it twists scripture to keep women in a state of subjugation which is not consistent with Jesus' own witness nor the gospel. In the case of the SBC this has also applied to race. 

We also concurred that the language used  by leaders in worship, congregational life, and denominational structures is powerful in shaping the narrative. And its no accident that far too many evangelical churches in the United States and Canada have drifted toward an anti-biblical hyper-nationalism and ultimately white supremacy. We saw this on full display in the Ottawa protests earlier this year, as racists and right-wing Christians mingled together. 

Our chin-wags were reminders that Christians across the theology spectrum can seek common ground that is rooted in scripture and the person of Jesus, the Christ. And not only do we need to be vigilant in resisting a false gospel, we need to affirm the Good News of equality in our conversations and daily lives. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Deliver us from the Evil of Normalized Violence

Amerie Garza -- age 10

 I didn't write about the terrible mass killing at a Buffalo supermarket and I decided I wouldn't reflect on the murder of school children in Texas either. This sort of carnage has become so commonplace in the United States of Guns that it would be next to impossible to keep up. How often can we adequately express our horror and incomprehension about a nation which has become a death cult? 

Yet I was awake in the early hours thinking about the innocent primary school kids who died. Yesterday we got photos of our grades one and three grandchildren happily showing off school projects in their excellent school. That was contrasted with the picture of one of the Texas schoolchildren, beaming after receiving an award the morning she died in a hail of bullets fired from a military-grade weapon purchased by an 18-year-old. When I saw her sweet face I wanted to weep. 

In a news conference the governor of Texas spoke about the evil of the perpetrator and how evil had swept across the state as a result of what had transpired. There was no recognition of the evil of virtually non-existent gun restrictions in Texas, and in other states, despite mass killings in schools, places of worship, concerts, grocery stores. This same governor will be speaking at a National Rifle Association convention in his state this weekend. The NRA is simply evil. 

The bible speaks often about evil although it is rarely defined. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches his followers a prayer in which God is asked to deliver us from evil and also  instructs them not to repay evil with evil. We understand that individuals can engage in evil but it is also systemic, enabling those who do violence against the vulnerable and innocent, making the wrong seem right. 

It was an evil act to kill those children and their teachers. It is evil to worship weapons as though they are gods, no matter the consequences. It is evil to do nothing to end the destruction, then make pious noises about praying for victims. There is a stench to these statements by those who can make a difference which must be offensive to God. 

Jesus, deliver us from falsehood. Deliver us from the evil of our violent natures. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Church Buildings and Faithful Footprints

                                                                            Bath Abbey

 I always appreciate news about faith communities which are endeavouring to "live with respect in Creation", to use the phrase which was added to a United Church creed years ago. During the past two years so many congregations have been focussed on survival because of the pandemic which has made looking outward a challenge.

I was so impressed by the story of an initiative of Bath Abbey in Great Britain which has now been completed. We visited the Abbey the year after we were married, so 45 years ago, as part of a belated honeymoon vacation. We also had a peek at the baths which gave the city its name, a geothermal source of groundwater which the clever and hygenic Romans developed  and used for several centuries. 

It makes perfect sense that the Abbey in now drawing on the same hot springs to heat its marvellous structure. As part of the congregation’s Footprint project, a system of underfloor heating pipework has been laid in the Abbey and a plant room dedicated to the associated mechanical and electrical equipment had been installed by a team of contractors that includes Emery, Wheelers and a company called isoenergy. More than a million litres of hot water flow through a channel which stays a constant 40°C all year round. Energy is extracted from this water to produce enough energy to heat the historic Abbey as well as the adjacent row of Georgian cottages (Kingston Buildings) that house the Abbey offices, Song School and volunteer facilities.

As you can imagine this project wasn't cheap costing nearly 20 million pounds, or about 32 million Canadian dollars. It definitely helps to have funding from the government for a heritage building which has its origins in the seventh century. 

This doesn't mean that regular congregations closer to home aren't able to make their buildings more environmentally sustainable. At Trenton United, our home congregation, a green audit was completed and projects will be undertaken over time. This was encouraged by Rev. Isaac who was a staff member for a green audit program in Montreal years ago. When I served St. Paul's UC in Bowmanville we installed solar panels on a section of roof during the Ontario Retrofit Program and not only have they paid for themselves they are a source of revenue. 

Dare I suggest that one of the most responsible choices many congregations could make is closing their buildings and amalgamating with others? There are too many small groups of people kicking around in big drafty barns without much of a sense of Christian mission. 

Should millions of pounds have been spent on the heating system for Bath Abbey in a world of need? It's unlikely that the church would close given the historical and architectural value. If it still has a sense of witness to the community the case can be made for this creative and Earth-honouring response. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

An Imperfect Storm & Our Response

On the Saturday of this past holiday weekend in Canada we were watching the Severe Thunderstorm Watch for our region of Southern Ontario. They often come and go without major incident and this was the case for us once again. We had a brief downpour and rumbles of thunder before the storm moved on. We didn't lose power even though we found out later that it was out all around us for several hours.

Other parts of our large province were not so fortunate. It turned out that an event called a derecho had swept through an area hundreds of kilometres in length leaving damage and devastation behind, depending on the community. Until a couple of years ago I'd never heard of a derecho and then only in the States. Trees were uprooted, houses destroyed in some cases, as was electrical grid infrastucture. The death toll stands at ten, with most of these persons killed by falling trees.

One of our daughters and her family lost power at their rural home and have been told that it won't be restored until at least tomorrow, perhaps not even then. Scores of power poles in their area snapped like twigs and trees are down everywhere. They didn't sustain any damage and they have a generator which has kept the essentials going but many neighbours don't. The irony is that they have two large solar arrays on their property but they are tied into the electrical grid so they aren't able to access this alternative energy. 

I am a Christian who is convinced that we must respond to the climate emergency within the life of faith communities, in our individual choices, and through voicing our convictions to governments as decision-makers. Across this country and continent and around the world the number of extreme weather events is increasing, alarmingly, and the consequences are catastrophic. We are seeing that no region is spared and it is naive and unfaithful to ignore what is transpiring.

We are only days away from an election here in Ontario and it appears that a government which has steadfastly ignored environmental issues will be returned to power. The record of the Conservatives is dismal and yet the environment has been a back-burner issue during this campaign for most parties others than the Greens. Premier Doug Ford made a quick stop at one of the communities most effected by the weekend weather event and blathered about "getting it done" in terms of restoration. The Conservatives' slogan should be "done like dinner" because of their wilful ignorance of the crisis we face. 

How many wake-up calls do we need? We deserve better from government but we have personal and systemic choices to make which will require a change of heart and practice -- repentance to use a faith term. God help us all. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Abusing the Eucharist


“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5 NRSV

Did Nancy Pelosi participate in a Roman Catholic service of worship yesterday? Pelosi is the feisty Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States. She has been vocal about her support of women's rights to make their own reproductive choices, including abortion, and this has drawn the ire of the very conservative archbishop in the diocese where she lives. He has banned her from receiving the eucharist or communion until she changes her stance and instructed her not to refer to her Roman Catholic faith in public.

If this sound familiar it is because a group of bishops have made a similar threat against President Joe Biden who is also a practicing Catholic. It is the height of hypocrisy for some of these same bishops who honoured former Attorney General Bill Barr in 2020 with a Faithful Christian Laity award despite the fact that he reinstated the federal death penalty, a decision which contravened Roman Catholic teaching. 

It should be noted that Pope Francis once commented that he has never denied the eucharist to anyone and observed that "a Church of the pure and perfect is a room with no place for anyone." Of course many of these bishops despise Francis because even though he may seem conservative in many areas, including abortion, his more expansive views on inclusion are anathema to them. 

How can leaders in a church which has finally, although reluctantly, acknowledged responsibility for the horrors of Residential Schools along with rampant sexual abuse by thousands of priests be so obsessed with censuring those who are acknowledging the separation of church and state? And how many of those soul-murdering clerics were banned from receiving the eucharist? Surely this picking and choosing who is worthy of coming to the table is an abuse of a sacrament. 

I know that many Catholics regard the sanctity of life as a concept which goes far beyond the narrow confines of abortion. I imagine both Pelosi and Biden are among them. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Victoria Day, Muffins, & Tradition


This afternoon two of our grandchildren will arrive for a sleepover and fun will ensue -- it always does. In preparation for the visit their mom passed on a request from the nine-year-old which she assured Ruth doesn't require compliance on her part. A couple of years ago their family had home-made muffins on Victoria Day, so he now considers it a tradition. Happily, he's coming to the right place because Granny loves baking the treats they like just to see the satisfaction on their wonderful faces. There will be muffins tomorrow morning in our household even though Queen Victoria probably won't be acknowledged. 

We chuckled for a while over this delightful request and it got me pondering the traditions we develop and how that happens. In the morning the first one up puts the pot on the stove because we prefer perked coffee. Until I realized that the quiz show Jeopardy could be streamed any old time 7:30 was sacrosanct. If you have a companion dog you know all about the daily expectations and probably have a bunch more in your lives. 

You might suggest these rather mundane patterns are habits rather than traditions but you get the gist. While they can be comforting they can also be restricting if we're not careful, and even tedious.

During the pandemic our patterns and traditions were rattled, including when and how we worship. For 37 years my life was shaped around Sunday mornings and the liturgical year and other aspects of congregational life. Since I retired nearly five years ago I haven't missed the responsibility at all yet I was somewhat bewildered at the beginning. 

We're aware of a significant shifting and reshaping going on in the institutional church, one which was well underway prior to the pandemic and now accelerated. So many of the habits and traditions which brought us comfort, or were just part of the rhythms of everday life  whether we actually like them or not -- are falling away.

 I hope we hold on to the good stuff -- for me Jesus would be the prime example!-- and let go of what has actually been weighing us down and keeping us from the exciting possibilities in our life together. 

One of the reasons I don't miss ministry is the weariness I felt after decades of trying to imagine who we could be as Christ's people for the moment we found ourselves in, rather than attempting to perpetuate habits which were no longer helpful or life-giving. There was  steady resistance because people often recognized that change was necessary and inevitable, as long as no actual change was involved. I can't express the depth of my joy over the fact that I will never be involved in another earnest conversation over choir gowns, yea or nay. The irony is that in many congregations choirs are drying up and blowing away. 

As I write this I can smell a rhubarb pie, fresh out of the oven, which Ruth has created because it is another favourite of a certain grandchild. There are many reasons I love their visits!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Essex Serpent, Faith & Fear

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Psalm 46:1-3 King James Version

We read Sarah Perry's fine novel, The Essex Serpent, a while back so we figured it was worth taking a look at the new series on Apple TV. Claire Danes is good in just about everything she does and Tom Hiddelston is also part of a strong cast. Even though some critics have been, well, critical, we are enjoying it even though Apple teases out an episode a week rather than allowing for some worthwhile binge watching. 

The story is set in 19th century England at a time when there are many major scientific advancements, including establishing the age of the planet. We are invited to consider discoveries in medicine, psychology, and paleontology, not to mention the role of women in society and the ways in which religion and science bumped up against each other. Freed for self-discovery through the death of her abusive husband, the inquisite Cora Seaborne (Danes) leaves London for the Essex coast in search of a sea serpent which is terrorizing a fishing village, even though no one has seen it. She approaches the phenomenon from a scientific frame of mind. Cora does some fossil hunting, wondering if the supposed serpent could be a remnant of a species from the distant past. She makes reference to Mary Anning, the untrained but highly successful fossil hunter of that era. 

Hiddleston's Rev. Ransome is a reasonable and well-read cleric who is attempting to quell the superstition and hysteria, quoting from the psalm above as he wrestles with the balance between faith and science. There is another pastor who is more than ready to attribute unusual occurrences to Satan and the pervasiveness of sin. 

We are enjoying the slow-moving story which is sort of a bodice-ripper with brains -- a romance with physical and intellectual attraction mixed in. It's got me thinking about how much and how little has changed, at least for some, in the past 150 years of discovery. 

Men still attempt to control the bodies and lives of women with draconian laws and dismissal of their gifts. In the United States a million people have died of COVID, in no small part because of anti-scientific sentiment and quack cures, with religion often leading the way. Locally, a man refused to be vaccinated even though he has an immunocompromised child because he's "washed in the blood of the Lamb," his selfish interpretation of what it means to be a committed Christian -- he should be committed.

It's dismaying that an anti-scientific outlook holds sway when it comes to climate change, and evolution as well. Former NFL star running back, Herschel Walker, is running for a US senate seat and has expressed his doubts about evolution because there are still apes. Ignorance and superstition are stubborn. 

I think I wrote about The Essex Serpent after I'd read the novel and recommended it. The series is worthwhile as well, especially if you can get beyond the slow moving first episode. Here is a CBC The Sunday Edition interview with Sarah Perry from five years ago on faith and fear.


Friday, May 20, 2022

A President and an Unjustified War

Former US president gave a speech the other day and told the truth, even though he did so inadvertently. He mused about a war that was the “decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.” Bush quickly corrected himself, saying he meant to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. Then, chillingly he quipped “Iraq, too, anyway,” he added under his breath to laughter from the audience at his presidential center in Dallas.

Chuckles about a disastrous Middle East war based on erroneous "intelligence" which killed untold numbers of civilians as well as thousands of combatants. The organization called Iraq Body Count estimates that 185,000 to 200,000 civilians have died since the Iraq war began. This is a horrendous total. 

I have suggested along the war that Bush is a war criminal and that while Trump is a reprehensible human being Bush may exceed him in infamy. Now that the COVID death toll in the States has exceed a million that assertion could be contested. Yet somehow Bush has been rehabilitated, becoming the kindly great-uncle who passes candies to Michelle Obama at official functions. Much has been made of the Christian faith of George Bush, who spoke of a conversion which saved his marriage and helped him quit drinking. Yet the Iraq War came after that supposedly life-changing experience.

Who can say why humans turn their backs on democracy and peace-making in favour of strongmen and destructive conflict. While the notion of "origin sin" has been badly abused, surely our propensity for war is just that, and our love affair with escalatory violence is a failure of our nature. 

The first conviction of a Russian as a war criminal for murdering an unarmed Ukrainian civilian happened this week. The young man accepted responsibility for his cowardly act but we know that Russian tryant Vladmir Putin, the criminal behind the atrocities which are taking place in Ukraine, may never be brought to justice. 

Early this morning I listened to Business Daily on CBC Radio which addressed the multi-trillion dollar "military industrial complex", to revive the cautionary phrase coined by another US president, Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell 1961 address to the nation. What might be achieved if those trillions squandered through the arms industry and conflict were deployed to address the climate emergency, and world hunger, and health care?

We need to speak boldly about the folly of war, even supposedly good or just wars. In an age when war can be wage remotely -- drones are now an industry exceeding 10 billion a year -- there is no such thing as a righteous conflict.

 I suppose I'm sounding more like a pacifist Quaker all the time. I could do worse. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

When Soiling Yourself is a Good Thing!


                                                                    The Sower Francois Millet 

Do not fear, O soil;

    be glad and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things!
22 Do not fear, you animals of the field,
    for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit;
    the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

                   Joel 2:21-22

1 We plough the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered
by your almighty hand;
you send the snow in winter,
the warmth to swell the grain,
the breezes and the sunshine,
and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
we thank you, God, O holy God,
for all your love.

Voices United 520 

Yesterday a two-chamber dump truck backed carefully up our driveway to deliver loads of garden-mix soil and mulch. I was a little daunted by the mountain which resulted but several hours and 45 wheelbarrow-loads later the driveway was clear. I even wheeled a portion of the mulch to the neighbours next door.

We wanted the soil for a new vegetable bed alongside our existing raised beds which have been a wonderful source of produce over the years with nary a drop of pesticide. In order to create that new bed I had to excavate the area because 50+ years ago our suburban yard was backfilled with clay, and rock, and even chunks of cement. I may have said words not found in the Book of Common Prayer as I toiled away. Once the rocks and roots were removed the dirt (I can't call it soil because not even a worm was evident) was added to our compost bins to be mixed in with other organic material and revitalized. 

I've been getting mysterious emails from an organization called Save Soil which is dedicated to addressing soil degradation and restoring soil health around the planet. The go-to person in this initiative is someone named Sadhguru who heads a spiritual foundation in India which focusses on yoga and social wellbeing. A little snooping suggests that while he has done a lot of good some of his principles and practices are sketchy. 

There is no question that promoting healthy soil is really important and I like that there is a spiritual connection. In our Judeo/Christian tradition we affirm that we are formed of the soil (Genesis) and in our funeral liturgies we conclude with "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust." When we went to the cemetery for the committal of my aunt's ashes ten days ago I suggested that we all take a handful of the red soil and place it in the hole, which everyone, young and old, chose to do.

In scripture, both in the older and newer testaments there are references to the health of soil and Jesus told a parable of seed scattered on both inhospitable and fertile ground. 

This is the time of year to get your hands dirty, to soil yourself, in a good way. If you are inclined to plant in the days ahead, consider what keeps your soil healthy. It is the responsible and the spiritual choice. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Reverence, Irreverence, & Wonder at the McMichael Gallery


Yesterday we drove to Kleinburg Ontario and the McMichael Gallery, a tranquil haven of Canadian art our family first visited more than 50 years ago when I was but a lad. We wanted to take in the exhibition entitled Generations: The Sobey Family and Canadian Art and it was well worth the trip. Admission was free as part of a Tuesday promotion which we appreciated because the gasoline to get there certainly wasn't. Even with pre-booked tickets the gallery was busy, mostly with other geezers, and we were among the minority wearing masks. 

I've written about my undergraduate degree in art history and my conviction that visual art at its best is a spiritual experience. There is a long history of that artistic connection with the Christian church, along with music.

The eclectic Sobey collection doesn't included many overtly religious pieces and some are even creatively irreverent, thinking of Kent Monkman -- he really is brilliant. Lots of the works were by Canadian artists I know well but I hadn't seen them before anywhere. We overheard McMichael executive director Ian Dejardin reflecting on a luminous Emily Carr painting to a companion, one which again was new to us and breath-taking.

So often when we visit the McMichael there are the bonus exhibitions, the ones we hadn't anticipated seeing when we came for the main event. This time it was the Jewish Life in Canada series by the late William Kurelek. I blogged about these paintings created by devout Roman Catholic Kurelek for his Jewish friend Avram Isaacs, an art dealer. This was the first time I've seen them "up close and personal." 

If this wasn't enough the A Like Vision: The Group of Seven at 100 is still there and worthwhile. You've got two more free community access Tuesdays before the opportunity concludes so book your tickets now!

                                                   Jewish Wedding Calgary -- William Kurelek

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Universal Poison of Racial and Religious Hatred

                                            Vigil outside the Tops store in Buffalo New York

Ten innocent people died in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on the weekend, the white murderer an eighteen-year-old whose hatred for Black people led him to this unspeakable act of cowardice. He drove hours to the store which he had researched as a important hub in a predominantly Black neighbourhood. I would describe this as diabolical. 

There were immediate responses from just about everyone, including the US President, decrying what had transpired. In Canada there were some who expressed gratitude that we live in a country which doesn't experience the same level of gun violence and racial hatred. Others pointed out that we have no reason to be smug, that Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour in this country are much more vulnerable, citing incidents of violence aimed at their communities. 

It has been noted that the young, white man who murdered worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City issued a "manfesto" which inspired the gunman in a mass killing at a New Zealand mosque and that his hateful screed was motivation for the garbled nonsense of the Buffalo killer. All three of these murderers were captured by police and observers suggest, probably rightly, that if any of them had been Black they would have been shot dead at the scene. 

Apparently the Buffalo perpetrator ascribed to the "great replacement theory" a bizarre white-supremacist notion that there is a plot to replace whites with non-white immigrants. While this began in Europe it has taken hold in the United States and Canada as the purported plan to rig elections with a flood of non-white newcomers. And it shouldn't surprise you that the conviction is that Jews are behind all this since they are blamed for every real and imagined problem in the world. 

Keep in mind that one of the key organizers of the so-called Freedom Convoy which wreaked havoc in Ottawa openly supports this theory. And let's remember that many of the people who invaded our nation's capital claimed to be Christians, as do plenty of white supremacists in the States. I can't say that those right-wing Christians in Ottawa espoused replacement theory, but why would they have aligned themselves so readily with people who are openly racist? 

To me this is apostasy, using the cover of Christianity, with its message of love and inclusion, to promote hatred and fear. We need to humbly acknowledge that racial and religious hatred exist in Canada and do everything possible to name it and challenge it, including through our communities of faith. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Peter's Unconventional Vision, and Ours


                                                               Peter's Vision from Acts 10

Yesterday we joined with the congregation at Trenton United Church for Sunday worship. There were people in attendance who haven't been present for a service in-person since the beginning of the pandemic, which was an encouraging sign. We also had a number of visitors because there were seven baptisms, and all of the candidates could walk to the font. Five members of a blended family were baptized, including the mom with four children and teens. The oldest was a man who is a grandparent. It wa a meaningful service and a reminder that in the early church there were no infant baptisms. Yesterday all of those baptized made a personal decision of inner faith and outward commitment. 

The day before a number of Trenton UC members from age six to eighty participated in the annual Trash Bash in town, beginning around the church and extending into the wider community. In the afternoon there was a seminar on inclusivity and acceptance with a focus on the LGBTQ2+ community. During the past two years the congregation opened a Winter warming centre, installed a lift, continued it's meal ministry, and undertook renovations to the kitchen and hall for that important work. 

The pandemic has been tough on a lot of congregations of virtually every denomination. We could say that they went into survival mode but honestly it has become evident that many of them moved into accelerated palliation and have made the decision to close permanently. This has taken a toll on everyone, including clergy. Financial subsidies for congregations have ended which is adding another layer of concern. 

 It's important to keep congregations in our prayers as they discern their future and consider what meaningful ministry will look like in the days ahead. I'll admit that I'm baffled by the congregations which have resisted constructive conversations with neighbours regarding amalgamation, only to announce that they are closing. There are others which seem to have chosen to hide their light under the proverbial bushel, to their detriment.

 While we can pray for these communities of faith in their grief we can also celebrate those which are choosing innovative and faithful Christian ministry, as they are able? Yesterday Rev. Isaac reflected on the lectionary passage from the Acts of the Apostles in which Peter has a vision freeing him to reconsider the conventions of his faith to welcome those who were eager for to become part of the Christian community through a baptism of water and the Holy Spirit, and it was a timely message. 

I won't forget in a hurry the open and expectant faces of those who were baptized.  What's happening now may not look like "church" from another time, but, hey,  nostalgia isn't what it used to be. Conventional wisdom just isn't cutting it in a rapidly changing spiritual landscape. The Holy Spirit is still as work, thanks be to God. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Migratory Birds & Human Peregrinations

 Yesterday we sat on our deck and watched as hummingbirds came to a feeder. It was  a wondrous sight for us geezers, as was the arrival at the same feeder by a Baltimore oriole several hours later while we were doing yard work. To top it all off a rose-breasted grosbeak showed up at another feeder later on. None of these species hang around for the summer at our place. They are on their way to an unknown destination for a summer of raising young before heading south in the Fall. 

It was fitting that yesterday was World Migratory Bird Day. We literally caught birds in the act of migrating to their seasonal homes. You may have heard the word "peregrination" to describe a journey, often on foot, sometimes purposeful and sometimes a ramble. There is a bird called the peregrine falcon and the name includes the notion of journey. If you search the word "peregrination" you will likely get a defintion along the lines of " a journey made by a pilgrim, a pilgrimage." 

Humans have always been inclined to migrate and I've wondered if religious or spiritual pilgrimages such as the Camino or the Haj are related to that compulsion to be on the move. Pilgrimages have often been demanding and even dangerous journeys with the risk of getting lost along the way -- the pilgrimage to Jerusalem by Jesus' family when he was a boy comes to mind. 

Still, these peregrinations or pilgrimages can have a profound effect on those who undertake them. Our son Isaac walked the 800+ kilometres of the Camino across France and Spain for a month when he was nineteen and I know that this journey shaped his Christian life then and to the present day. 

We may never embark on an arduous physical migration/peregrination yet we can always be intentional about our spiritual journeys. And we can enjoy those intrepid migrating birds, mysteriously guided by magnetic fields or the stars or whatever it is that compells them. 

If you're interested in this year's Migratory Bird Day theme of light pollution check out this link:


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Consider the Dandelions of the Lawn


“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?

                                       Matthew 6:30-33

 I succumbed to peer pressure and cut the grass of our front lawn, which we share with a neighbour in terms of upkeep because of pie-shaped lots. And the house next door is empty because the new owners haven't moved in, so I've cut their lawn a couple of times as well. Today I'll set the mower high and address the backyard because I'm an old white male but I have been waiting because of No Mow May. Have you heard about this encouragement to leave our lawns be so that pollinators have some early blossoms, usually in the form of dandelions? We've become so intent on cutting and killing what we consider the pests of our lawns that early insect populations are suffering. 

                                                          Plastic lawn and offending blossoms 

We have moved toward treating our lawns as though they are astroturf, and actually in Britain there has been a considerable increase in replacing actual turf with fake lawns. There was a story last week about a woman who complained to her local council about a neighbour's flowering tree and the fallen blossoms which were infesting her plastic lawn, requiring constant hoovering. She has also posted photos on social media of the desecration. She was advised that blooms gonna fall, and that people needed to understand that this was beyond council jurisdiction. This woman's head will likely explode when the Autumn leaves come down.

How do we live with respect for our neighbours and "live with respect in Creation" as the New Creed invites us to do? Perhaps we accept that those bees and other pollinators are neighbours who are absolutely essential to the wellbeing of Creation. We literally can't live without them, but we would all be better off without plastic lawns. Maybe someone will invent a noxious neighbour spray which renders the hyper-vigilant voiceless.